Two seasons ago, it was the Ramblers of Loyola-Chicago and their No. 1 fan Sister, Jean, that somehow went from a No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament all the way to the Final Four. Who will be the next Cinderella to dance at the NCAA tourney ball? Our college basketball previews and predictions here at Scores & Stats have identified a handful of teams that could certainly fit into the proverbial glass slipper.
New Mexico State Auburn made it to last year’s Final Four but before they could get there they had to beat a pesky New Mexico State in the first round of the tournament. The Aggies return four starters from last year’s WAC champion that finished with a 30-5 record.
Davidson It’s not just Stephen Curry’s alma mater anymore. Davidson returns its entire starting five which includes the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in Jon Axel Gudmundsson. He scored 16.9 points per game and teammate Kellan Grady averaged 17.3. Grady was the conference’s preseason player of the year.
All five starters shot at least 34 percent from 3-point range and 37 percent from the field. Luka Brajkovic (11.1 ppg) and Luke Frampton (10.3 ppg) were both freshman starters a year ago that averaged in double figures. Davidson looks to improve on its second-place finish in the A-10 and first-round exit from the NIT.
Harvard Ivy League co-champion Harvard also returns all five of its starters. Head coach Tommy Amaker also welcomes back Seth Towns, a junior who missed all of last season with an injury. The previous season, Towns was the Ivy League Player of the Year.
Noah Kirkwood was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year after averaging 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game last year. The Crimson will be deep and talented coming off last year’s 19-12 finish.
Utah State The Aggies return four starters which include the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year. Guard Sam Merrill averaged 20.9 points and 4.2 assists on his way to capturing MW Player of the Year honors. Neemias Queta at 6-foot-11-inches returns as the MW Defensive Player of the Year after averaging 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks a game.
The Aggies, 28-7 last year, will be one of the biggest teams in the nation. In addition to Queta, there is 7-2 Kuba Karwowski, 6-11 Trevin Dorius, and 6-10 Klay Stall. Most college basketball previews and predictions see Utah State as one of the cinderellas that could crash this year’s Final Four party.
Western Kentucky The Hilltoppers return four players that averaged in double figures including the leader Charles Bassey (14.6 ppg). Bassey is a 6-11 former five-star recruit who flirted with the NBA after last season. He also averaged 10.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game.
Taveion Hollingsworth (14.4), Jared Savage (12.2), and Josh Anderson (12.1) all return from last year’s 20-14 team. Experience and depth give head coach Rick Stansbury what should be the best team in Conference USA.